Last Chance: Nam June Paik at the Whitney: A Work of Dizzying Complexity

Many of the works in “Programmed: Rules, Codes and Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018,” an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, require an electrical outlet. The presentation — drawn mostly from the museum’s collection — involves much in the way of video projections, lights, television sets, voice-overs, soundtracks, computers, computer programs and, in the most recent efforts, touch screens.

Yet regardless of whether power sources are needed, all the artworks use algorithms. That is, they are executed according to plans, instructions, numerical systems, or, as the show’s subtitle indicates, rules, codes and choreographies. The analog examples tend to be foundational works of Minimal and Conceptual Art: Donald Judd’s 1965 aluminum relief based on the Fibonacci numerical sequence; a Sol LeWitt wall drawing from 1976 executed to written directions applicable to walls of any dimension; and Joseph Kosuth’s string of five words in green neon that reads “Five Words in Green Neon” (1965).

Then there is the show’s most plugged work in several senses: Nam June Paik’s 1989 “Fin de Siècle II,” a monumental video wall of dizzying complexity formed by 207 television monitors of varying sizes arranged in adjoining grids. They emit a disorienting, enrapturing flood of images and music taken from broadcast television and video art and programmed to repeat relentlessly, mutate wildly and change abruptly, although a driving, danceable beat is constant.

“Image World: Art and Media Culture” — which like this one, looked to art’s unfolding future. It was given to the museum in 1993, but has never again been on view; the label calls it “partially restored,” indicating a difficult rehabilitation.

The thrill of seeing “Fin de Siècle II” again is part of the thrill of the whole show, which ends with several recent digital works commissioned by the museum. In this way, “Programmed” offers an optimistic snapshot of the Whitney’s mission today, especially its determination to acquire, and foster new, experimental work, while giving older works in its collection fresh relevance.

Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018

Through April 14 at the Whitney Museum of Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan; 212-570-3600,

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